Last week, CVS announced a decision to remove tobacco products from stores around the country. In the past, customers could visit any of the 7,600 locations and pick up a pack of cigarettes. Tobacco was big business for the stores, accounting for around $2 billion of sales each year. Despite the financial implications, CVS has chosen to move forward with the plan to pull tobacco products.
Public health officials are praising the move as a positive step for public health. Even President Obama commented on the decision, calling CVS a “powerful example” for other retailers. While cigarettes will no longer be available at your neighborhood CVS, there is a lot of speculation about how the chain will handle electronic cigarettes. So far, CVS has chosen not to carry e-cigs in the stores, but they have not made any public announcements as to whether they will eventually offer e-cigs to customers.
According to Time, CVS is most likely waiting to see how the FDA will handle e-cigarettes before making a final decision about whether to stock the products. While e-cigs are tobacco-free, they are still not classified as a smoking cessation tool look nicotine gum or patches. So they fall somewhere in between, leaving a loophole that could potentially open up a world of opportunity for CVS stores to appeal to current and former smokers with a new option.
Electronic cigarette manufacturers are speaking out to applaud CVS for refusing to sell tobacco. NJOY issued a public statement after the announcement to show their support in the fight against smoking. “NJOY applauds CVS Caremark for its courageous decision to go tobacco free… nearly half a million Americans die every year due to smoking and we believe electronic cigarettes can help end this epidemic.”
VMR electronic cigarettes also spoke out in favor of CVS. CEO Andries Verleur said, “We believe in the mission to create a tobacco-free generation. With this in mind, we are also pleased that CVS will continue to emphasize the importance of alternatives to tobacco and hope that they will ultimately recognize the impact of electronic cigarettes, which do not contain tobacco, in this category.”
Columbia business school professor Rita McGrath told Fox Business that CVS was making a strategic move that could pay off in the future. “There is a bigger strategy behind this… CVS is pulling out of an area that’s really slow growth. This is never going to be a growth area for that firm again, and it’s freeing up those resources they can start investing in areas of other opportunity,” she said.
McGrath also speculated that rival pharmacies like Walgreens and Rite Aid would face greater pressure to also start pulling tobacco products from their shelves. “It’s going to be risky for those other firms if they don’t respond in some way.”
For now, CVS customers will have to buy their cigarettes somewhere else. Maybe in the future, they can choose e-cigs as an alternative and stock up on vaping supplies at CVS. Spokesman Michael DeAngelis said the decision about whether to stock e-cigs would have to wait until the FDA makes a move. “We wouldn’t speculate on how the FDA will decide about this product. We will evaluate once their decision is made.”
Do you think CVS should start selling electronic cigarettes or should they steer clear of any nicotine-related products?